Wild ginger is an understory perennial that grows up to 6 inches tall at maturity. It springs from an underground network of rhizomes and forms dark green, heart-shaped leaves about 3 inches in diameter. The clonal growth forms a mat of wild ginger that covers the ground, which prevents other seedlings from growing within the colony by effectively out-competing them for light. Allelochemicals found in the plant could also play an important role in structuring the surrounding community (Weston & Mathesius, 2013).
Wild ginger evolved in shady, rich, deciduous forests in large colony formations. Flowers are not produced until there are enough resources stored in the underground rhizome. Its flowers, found at the base of its stem, mostly self-pollinate, but a small portion are cross-pollinated by tiny flies. Seed dispersal is mostly done by ants and therefore is short-distance (Cain & Daman, 1997). Nonetheless, clonal growth is the most efficient way for reproduction in wild ginger (Muir, 1995). Like most woodland perennial herbaceous plants, wild ginger is susceptible to habitat destruction since they rely heavily on vegetative reproduction.
Native Americans and early Euro-Americans used the wild ginger for its flavor which resembles that of the asian plant commonly known as ginger (Zingiber officinale) and for its few medicinal properties. It can be cooked like the common Asian ginger and even has similar medicinal properties. The rhizome can be dried and ground into a powder to be used as a spice. It is often added to soups or can be made into candy. Research was conducted to investigate the legitimacy of wild gingers traditional use as a medicinal plant. It was found that the plant does have antibiotic properties, however the chemicals that give it these properties can be toxic in high doses. Wild ginger remains safe to eat in moderate amounts and can potentially alleviate problems such as stomach aches, hearing loss, convulsions, leg pain (sciatica) and coughing. Although it can be safe to consume as well as beneficial to your health, it is recommended that people still take caution. When eaten raw, the rhizome can induce vomiting so it is also essential to properly prepare it.
Wild ginger typically grows in the deciduous forests of eastern North America ranging from Manitoba to New Brunswick and extending south to Kansas and Florida (Anderson, 2000). It prefers well drained, moist and sandy or clay soils, full-shade to semi-shade and a soil pH between 6 and 7 (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 2015). The Asarum canadense is a very common understory plant in Quebec and usually found in bitternut hickory or in linden-maple stands (Leboeuf, 2006). The growing conditions of the plants, especially the soil type, were considered to frame our research question on the natural history of the wild ginger in the Morgan Arboretum, which is:
In the Morgan Arboretum, what are the effects of the different habitats of Asarum canadense on the size of the colonies and the vegetation surrounding them?
The objective of this study is to examine whether there are differences in the colony size within the common habitat range of wild ginger. Based on previous research and literature, we hypothesize that colony size will be larger under forest stands that have well-drained soil and more sunlight.
The Morgan Arboretum is owned and managed by McGill University and is located at the western tip of the island of Montreal. Understory plants in this climate experience a severe cold winter and humid warm summer. Perennial herbaceous plants such as A. canadense have above-ground parts that wither and die in late fall and sprout back from rhizomes when the ground thaws in the spring. The arboretum is divided into different forest stands comprised of both native and non native species. There are many invasive species in the area such as Rhamnus sp., Allaria petiolata, and Euonymus sp., which can pose a threat to native habitats.
Three study areas were selected based on the forest stands that are considered common habitats of A. canadense. These include sugar maple, mixed sugar maple, and Am. beech stands. Sugar maple and mixed sugar maple stands grow on St. Bernard soils, which are nutrient rich and well-drained, while beech stands grown on St. Rosalie soils which also contain high levels of nutrients but are imperfectly drained. The study areas were surveyed at first for the presence of A. canadense colonies. The size of these colonies was then measured and surrounding vegetation within a one meter radius was noted. Colony size is determined by average diameter and number of ramets (individuals). The reason for diameter measurement is based on the observation during surveying stage that the plant clonal growth is almost circular. This growth form is applied to all colony samples except for large colonies that have been restricted by large obstacle (big trees and rocks). To measure the diameter, a random cross section is made across the colony and an average measurement is recorded. Ramets were counted individually within the colonies. Surrounding vegetation within 1 m from the edge of the colony was recorded but frequency data was not collected since the purpose is only to observe which species are capable of growing in proximity to the wild ginger colonies (species richness, not abundance). Proportion of open habitat (shade intolerant) vegetation will be calculated and used as a proxy to indicate the degree of shade tolerance of A. canadense.
This study will provide a record of information regarding soil type and plant species richness surrounding A. canadense colonies which can aid further detailed studies of population and community dynamics at a local and regional scale. Invasive species are a great threat to biodiversity in Quebec’s woodlands. An existing study was done to observe the interaction of local and invasive flora, in this case between A. canadense and Euonymus fortunei (Smith & Reynolds, 2012). This study suggests that there is a potential for using native plants, such as wild ginger, to manage invasive species. Overall, understanding the habitat and community structure of wild ginger will aid in the management and protection of not only the plant but of other plants and organisms that share its habitat.
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